Contents of this issue:

  • GR union slams school board on audiotape
  • Lansing sees promise in Promise
  • Alternatives to alternative ed
  • Bill would open state health plan to schools
  • Four are perfect on ACT
  • Charters earn favorable report


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - The Grand Rapids school board says that comments made by union leaders during a Michigan Education Association conference show a lack of civility and may constitute bargaining in bad faith on the part of the Grand Rapids Education Association, The Grand Rapids Press reported.

The comments were recorded by an MEA member and provided anonymously to the Education Action Group, a non-profit school board advocacy group, which posted the recording on line, The Press reported. On the tape, Grand Rapids Education Association President Paul Helder says that only two or three members of the Grand Rapids board "are capable of some kind of independent thought" and that the union plans on "taking out another two" during May elections, according to the Press.

Buz Graeber, an MEA representative for Grand Rapids, also is heard on the tape saying that the union plans to delay the current fact-finding process in an effort to stop the board from imposing a contract on teachers, The Press reported. The groups have been in negotiations for 18 months.

The board has asked its attorney for an opinion on whether the comments constitute bad-faith bargaining, according to The Press, but Helder responded that the board reaction is overblown.

In the audiotape, the men pointed out they're uncertain whether teachers will be willing to strike, The Press reported. Teachers are prohibited by law from striking.

Kyle Olson, EAG vice president, told The Press that the tape demonstrates that the teachers union is not interested in reaching a contract agreement.

The Grand Rapids Press, "Grand Rapids school board says secretly recorded audiotape shows teachers' union is bargaining 'in bad faith'," Feb. 23, 2009

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Make unions accountable for illegal strikes," Dec. 22, 2008


LANSING, Mich. - The Lansing School District will apply for Promise Zone certification under a new state law allowing local authorities to capture some property tax revenue for college scholarships, according to the Lansing State Journal.

If the state approves, an independent board would draft a plan to raise initial funds for the program and also set scholarship criteria, the Journal reported. In subsequent years, the authority also would receive income from incremental increases in property tax revenue in the zone.

"We're optimistic that the establishment of this Promise Zone will help us to maintain enrollment, to attract new families to Lansing, to our community and to our schools," Superintendent T.C. Wallace Jr. said at a meeting, according to the Journal.

The scholarships would be awarded to students living within the zone and could be used toward an associate or bachelor's degree, the Journal reported. The law allows up to 10 Promise Zones across the state.

Dennis Fliehman, president and chief executive officer of Lansing's Capital Region Community Foundation, told the Journal that the Zone would help families and the economy. The foundation already holds the endowment for Lansing's HOPE Scholarship, which pays for two years at Lansing Community College, the Journal reported.

Lansing State Journal, "Lansing to apply for Promise Zone plan," Feb. 13, 2009

Michigan Education Digest, "Promise Zone bills signed," Jan. 16, 2009


MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. - Mount Pleasant Public Schools is weighing the idea of moving its alternative high school students to its traditional high school in a "school-within-a-school" scenario, according to the (Mount Pleasant) Morning Sun.

Supporters of the district's Oasis Alternative High School want the school to remain separate, saying many students are successful there, but overall enrollment, graduation and attendance rates are low, the Morning Sun reported.

Oasis enrollment has dropped from more than 300 students to about 150, according to the Morning Sun, mostly because once students realize they must complete the new Michigan Merit Curriculum — including two years of algebra and heavy doses of science and English — they decide not to attend school at all, the Morning Sun reported.

Principal Jeff Platte told the Morning Sun that daily attendance averages only 60 to 70 percent.

"The school hasn't made 'adequate yearly progress' in four years," Mount Pleasant Public Schools Superintendent Joe Pius told the Morning Sun.

Oasis supporters, however, said the school is successful with many nontraditional students, including those with previous behavioral, legal or academic problems who would otherwise drop out, the Morning Sun reported.

Pius told the Morning Sun that the district plans to appoint a committee to come up with solutions. Those solutions might also involve directing students to adult education, GED preparation classes or online education options.

The Mount Pleasant Morning Sun, "Oasis school's future debated," Feb. 22, 2009

Michigan Education Report, "Will a state-mandated high school curriculum of 18 credits ensure better prepared students in the 21st Century? No," March 7, 2006


LANSING, Mich. - Schools and local government units would be allowed to enroll their employees in the state government health insurance program under legislation proposed by state Rep. Cindy Denby, R-Handy Township, the Lansing State Journal reported.

While the local units would still pay the full cost of employee insurance under House Bill 4181, they might be able to attract better rates by joining the state pool, according to the Journal.

The state purchases health coverage from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and administers the plan through the state Civil Service Commission, the Journal reported. It was unclear how much it would cost to expand that system to include large numbers of school and municipal employees.

A spokesman for the Michigan Education Special Services Association, a third-party administrator that already sells Blue Cross insurance plans to a majority of Michigan school districts, questioned any potential savings and said it might be less expensive for local municipalities to purchase insurance directly from Blue Cross Blue Shield, rather than through the state.

Gary Fralick, director of communications and government relations for MESSA, an affiliate of the Michigan Education Association, told the Journal, "Probably a more effective option for public employers would be to approach the Blues directly."

Fralick told the Journal that the association does not view the proposal as a threat to MESSA, saying it welcomes competition "as long as it's a level and fair playing field."

Government leaders told the Journal that they would support the plan as long as it remains voluntary. Whether any individual school or municipality would save money depends on the type of plan and level of coverage it offers employees, according to the Journal.

Lansing State Journal, "Bill would let schools, governments join state's health plan," Feb. 19, 2009

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Michigan Votes, "2009: House Bill 4181," Feb. 6, 2009

Michigan Education Report, "Blue Cross and MESSA," Sept. 6, 2006


RICHLAND, Mich. - Four Michigan students earned perfect scores of 36 on the ACT college entrance examination administered in December 2008, among them Gull Lake High School senior Caitlin Kirby, The Kalamazoo Gazette reported. The other three were not named in the article.

Kirby aced the exam on her second try after scoring 32 in her first attempt, according to The Gazette. She told The Gazette that she plans to attend Michigan State University's Honors College but has not yet decided on a major.

About one-tenth of 1 percent of all ACT test-takers earn a perfect score, The Gazette reported. Nancy Owen, a spokeswoman for the ACT, said that 415,000 tests were administered in December, and 63 takers achieved a 36. The perfect score reflects a rigorous level of coursework, Owen said.

"She's never gotten anything but As in her life," Kirby's father, Dave Kirby, told The Gazette.

The Kalamazoo Gazette, "In rare feat, Gull Lake senior Caitlin Kirby aces ACT college entrance test," Feb. 18, 2009

Michigan Education Digest, "MME scores improve slightly in most subjects," Aug. 13, 2008


LANSING, Mich. - Largely favorable news about Michigan's charter public schools was nearly lost in a state board of education discussion this month about whether and how to regulate the schools further.

A draft report indicates that charter students performed slightly better academically than conventional public school students in urban areas, but that both groups lag behind the state average.

Gary Naeyaert, vice president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, told Michigan Education Report that the report confirms the progress and popularity of charter public schools.

Some state board of education members said they continue to be concerned about the method of choosing charter school board members as well as the school site plan process and spending transparency.

A final version of the report, "Public School Academies at a Glance," including recommendations to the Legislature, will go before the state board of education in March.

Michigan Education Report, "Charter school report favorable, state board wants more," Feb. 24, 2009

Michigan Education Report, "Charter students growing up," Nov. 14, 2007

MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report (http://www.educationreport.org), an online newspaper published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (http://www.mackinac.org), a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute.

Contact Managing Editor Lorie Shane at

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